Patio Picks – Do it Dining al Fresco

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODDining al fresco – the art of eating outdoors is a pleasure that combines casual atmosphere, fresh air, cool breezes and great food and beverage. The venue can range from family style BBQ and picnic tables or even your car at places like BBQ King on Wilkinson Blvd. or Brooks Sandwich House on North Brevard Street to a setting with comfy patio furniture seating at places such as Osso Restaurant and Lounge at the Music Factory and Bonterra Dining and Wine Room in Dilworth.

Lots of restaurants with patios offer opportunities for dining al fresco throughout the year, but late spring, summer and on into early fall is the time we want to enjoy the out of doors as much as we can. So lap up the sunshine or sit in the cool comfort of the summer shade. Join your kids in a game of shuffleboard at the patio at Zada Jane’s in Plaza Midwood while you wait for a table at breakfast or brunch; take in the splendor of our city’s skyline from the highest heights atop the patio at Chef Rocco Whalen’s Fahrenheit Restaurant  at the Hyatt Place Hotel uptown; or enjoy food, wine and occasional music at several eateries or wine shops with outdoor dining and tastings such as Napa on Providence in Eastover; and Vin Masters in SouthEnd.

Alfresco dining in the Queen City can range from large venues, such as the patio at Mimosa Grill, Uptown that over looks the plaza and a bustling sections of Tryon Street to small, much like the patio at Fenwicks on Providence Road,  with just a few tables on the front porch of this neighborhood gathering spot

Great patios to see and be seen abound at local breweries in NoDa; bars and restaurants surrounding the Music Factory; and in shopping “villages” around town where several restaurants might have patios grouped together off a main courtyard as at Ballantyne Village where patios from Mellow Mushroom, Terrace Cafe and Villa Antonio meet; or off South Main Street in Davidson where the back porch patio of the Pickled Peach looks over the patio behind Summit Coffee nestled up to an adjacent playground – on Saturday mornings this “common area” is home to the Davidson Farmers’ market where locavores can enjoy combine their morning coffee al fresco with a little fresh from the farm shopping trip.

Favorite al fresco eats from Toscana, Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar, Tupleo Honey, The Summit Room and Va da Vie Gelato

Favorite al fresco eats from Toscana, Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar, Tupleo Honey, The Summit Room and Va da Vie Gelato

Tis the season, indeed, and so my June restaurant segment on WCNC’s Charlotte Today with hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway features five of my favorite places to dine al fresco with some of my favorite summer menu selections as well… enjoy!

toscana logoWe’ll start with what I have always thought to be one of the most romantic patios in town, Toscana, located in Shops on the Park across from SouthPark, 6401 Morrison Blvd. 704.367.1808. Like all of Augusto Conte’s magical restaurants, the menu at Toscana offer high quality fresh made Italian fare and the patio is like sitting off a small village side street in Tuscany. Comfortable seating surrounded by a shrub lined fencing keeps it tight and cozy, A beautiful fountain offers the cool comfort and pleasant sounds of a water feature and  large pots of herbs define the heritage.  In the evenings the open sky view add the romance of moonlight and the stars. One of our favorite dishes at Toscana is the gnocchi, tender potato pillows bathed in a light fresh tomato sauce touched with basil and mozzarella – add a bottle from the well appointed wine list – perfecto! Toscana on Urbanspoon
Wp white logoNot far from Toscana, is Wolfgang Puck’s Pizza bar located in the Phillips Place shopping center 704.295.0101 Charlotte’s WP Pizza Bar is Puck’s flagship Pizza Bar Restaurant and offers  a relaxing getaway from to enjoy lunch and dinner. The patio is off to the side of the restaurant, away from parking and much foot traffic and offers a cozy comfortable place to great place to getaway from it all.  Perfect for business meetings, ladies who lunch or a midday tete-a-tete.  While the menu offers an assortment of appetizers and pasta dishes, for me this place is about the pizza done in Wolfgang’s signature style a la an aromatic wood burning oven.  While Wolfgang himself does occasionally make appearances at the restaurant, day to day it is the talented Chef Scott Whallen and staff who channel Puck’s vision and creative juices into beautiful  and delicious plates for lunch and dinner. We now enjoy WP as our go to after the movies spot and our go to order is the arugula and asparagus salad lightly dusted with grated Parmesan, teamed with any one of the lists of pizzas – our current faves are the mushroom pizza with rubiola cheese and the slightest drizzling of truffle oil and the margarita pizza – simply perfect for the two of us to share. Wolfgang Puck Pizza | Bar on Urbanspoon

Tupel Honey Cafe (Contributed)Next, Tupelo Honey at 1820 South Blvd. 980-225-9167. The restaurant and patio are located on the second level of the historic SouthEnd Building,  take the stairs or the elevator up and the fun begins. The restaurant is full of action and a buzz most of the time, so the patio offers a lovely slightly quieter dining option. Great for families or dinners for two, big overhead fans keep the climate cool and in case of inclement weather their are outdoor curtains drawn to keep the rain away. The vibe at Tupelo is reconstructed Southern and it is exceptionally well done from soup to nuts. Great service and an assortment of wonderful craft cocktails and local beers round out the experience. Must tries this season include the sweet potato pancakes ( breakfast is served whenever you want it at Tupelo), the black bean burger and tofu wings (three cheers for some great vegetarian options), the fabulous Southern Popcorn ( aka fried okra) and the Carolina Mountain Trout with Goat cheese grits – shooo mercy! and Tupelo’s own Brown Butter Pecan Pie.  Look for bar specials on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday ( the least crowded days and nights to dine at this Charlotte favorite); and while you are there shop for cookbooks, Tupelo’s biscuit mix and of course, jars of Tupelo Honey. Tupelo Honey Cafe on Urbanspoon

summit logoThe Summit Room at 1531 East Blvd. 980.237.2227 is one of Charlotte’s newest places to dine al fresco. In a clever and creative move, The Summit Room owners also own the adjacent restaurant The MayoBird and the two dining establishments share this picturesque porch and patio. The MayoBird is open for breakfast and lunch, while The Summit Room with Chef Brent Martin at the helm in the kitchen is open from early afternoon till the wee hours of the evening.

Several years ago the Dilworth Communtiy made it a mission to  drive neighborhood foot traffic with more pedestrian friendly streetside dining. As a result,  many neighborhood places on the boulevard offer patio dining but not many do it better than this. Rocking chairs with side tables on the porch, patio tables in the sun or under umbrellas –  its a great place for everything from power lunches to a glass of wine or tea – with two very different dining concepts. At  The Summit Room, Chef Martin doing some really innovative things with the menu. Love that the menu changes at his whim, with the weather and with the availability of local product. Specials are always great – the hand cut fries are incredible and  my new favorite – a quenelle (or oval shaped scoop) of chicken liver mousse atop a house made waffle with candied and pickled fruit and microgreens is a real winner! The Summit Room on Urbanspoon

va de vie logo

Wendy and John Paglia create nine different varieties of from-scratch gelato, fresh every day

Wendy and John Paglia create nine different varieties of from-scratch gelato, fresh every day

Finally, the newest patio on our list for today, at just a month old, is to be found in the unlikeliest of locations: the center of the Park Road Shopping Center parking lot!  This free standing building  with the little patio offers big flavors inside –flavors like homemade, almond,  pistachio, coffee bean, chocolate hazelnut, lemon ricotto, local strawberry and blueberry and pineapple and mango! It’s all in the guise of homemade gelato at Va da Vie Gelato, 4203 Park Road 980.201.9159  … owners John and Wendy Paglia use all local product to make their Piedmontese style gelato and sorbet. No bases or mixes just local Homeland Dairy milk and cream and real fruit, fair trade coffee, local cheese and imported Italian nuts –  no chemicals or preservatives.  As this product doesn’t travel well – you can’t really take quantities to go – just gotta eat it there and savor the moment.  During the heat of the  day enjoy the cool marble-lined comfort inside; and  in the evening mix and mingle on the patio with friends and neighbors of all ages, comparing flavors and deciding which one you will order next. Va da Vie Gelato on Urbanspoon

 

To watch the restaurant segment that  inspired this blog post and originally aired on WCNC-TV’s Charlotte Today, simply click on the  caption of the photo of Toscana’s beautiful Italian Patio, then go out and enjoy al fresco dining in Charlotte for yourself.

 

 

The heat is on and headed your way – Competition Dining cruises the state of North Carolina Preaching the Gospel of Eating and Drinking Local

BlackCompDiningLogoThe competition is heating up – that’s the Got To Be NC Competition Dining, of course, and as of this spring time post, NC favorite culinary sport is well on it way into is 2014 season. With Fire on the Dock on the NC coast and Fire in the Rock in the Boone, Blowing Rock, Asheville area now over and decided, the Fire in the Triad series is now in the semi final stage. Next up, Fire in the Triangle and then  its Charlotte’s turn at Fire in the  City.

I've cooked up a special deal on tickets to Charlotte's Fire in the City preliminary rounds - check it out at the end of this blog!

I’ve cooked up a special deal on tickets to Charlotte’s Fire in the City preliminary rounds – check it out at the end of this blog!

If you have followed this blog from its inception, you will know that in 2013 I was named the Official Blogger for the  2013 Fire in the City Competition Dining series. This year the competition comes to Charlotte for another much anticipated season; so anticipated, in fact, that even though the competing chefs and brackets have yet to be named, ticket sales are already brisk.

Charlotte’s Fire in the City takes place starting August 18 – Sept 29,  and I have a special deal for you at the end of this post for $10 off each ticket, so you’ll have to act quickly - but more about that later – for now you don’t have to wait to join in all the fun.

As many of you know since the beginning of the  Greensboro – Winston-Salem – High Point, Fire in the Triad series, I have been working for my friend Jimmy Crippen and Competition Dining, handling social media, coming up with fun promotions and helping to be a liason between the competition, chefs, diners, local ingredients and more telling the story all along the way. In the Triad I have had the pleasure of meeting many talented chefs and their families, and have been happy to tell their stories.

The Sixteen triad chefs who have competed in the Got to be NC Competition Dining Fire in the Triad series

The Sixteen Triad chefs who have competed in the Got to be NC Competition Dining Fire in the Triad series

This week marks the semi finals of the Triad Fire, down to the wire, last night and tonight   May 27 and 28 will determine which two triad chefs go to the final battle on Monday June 2 which will determine the Fire in the Triad champion.

Ready, set, cook... Competition Dining host Jimmy Crippen poses with Fire in the Triad semi finalists Chef Tim Thompson and Chef Mark Grohman as the day kicks off.

Ready, set, cook… Competition Dining host Jimmy Crippen poses with Fire in the Triad semi finalists Chef Tim Thompson and Chef Mark Grohman as the day kicks off.

Last night the heat was on in the first semi final battle between two culinary talents found in Chef Tim Thompson from Marisol Restaurant in Greensboro and Chef Mark Grohman from Meridian Restaurant in Winston-Salem. These two stand up guys and their teams had great fun during the day but all the while took the task of preparing six courses for 140+ guests quite seriously.

 

pepsi and peanuts

 

 

 

As with all Competition Dining battles, this one revolved around two signature North Carolina ingredients – Pepsi and peanuts!  The tradition, now a fun bar trick, of putting peanuts in a bottle of glass of Pepsi started on local NC farms – the farm help couldn’t carry a glass or bottle and a bite to eat and still have all hands on deck to do the work; so they combined the snack and beverage and at the end of each row, took a swig to get a drink and something to munch on at the same time. Today its a fun combination of sweet and salty that remains a crowd pleaser!

The evening was full of excitement and in the end it was chef Tim Thompson  and his team from Greensboro’s Marisol Restaurant that took the win. Chefs each had a large box of shelled peanuts from the American Peanut Co. in North Carolina and 2 1/2 gallons of Pepsi syrup with which to work.

To my mind, the most successful savory  courses this evening, I thought, cleverly added spice of Sambal and a local NC Sriracha called Cha! produced by the makers of Texas Pete. The hot and spice counteracted the sweet in the savory courses and then chefs played up the peanut and Pepsi combo in dessert. Here are some shots of the behind the scene action during the day, the final dishes with a bit of my editorial in the descriptives and more…

Course One - Chef Tim Thompson and team Marisol

Course One – Chef Tim Thompson and team Marisol

COURSE 1 by Chef Tim Thompson and team Marisol was one of Marisol’s highest scoring plates of the evening right out of the shoot. It was comprised of a Heritage Farms Pork tenderloin, rubbed with Lusty Monk mustard, local honey, roasted garlic fresh rosemary and Dijon mustard; then served with a wasabi aioli,  a ginger-Pepsi red cabbage slaw, a peanut-sambal Puree,  and a swirl of Pepsi “Liquer”

 

Course 2 - Chef Mark Grohman and Team Meridian

Course 2 – Chef Mark Grohman and Team Meridian

Chef Mark Grohman and the team from Meridian offered COURSE 2 a Pepsi braised  Cheshire Farm pork butt, wrapped in Swiss chard and served with a, Potato- Peanut Gratin, Grilled Brocollini,  and Texas Pete Cha!-Pepsi Reduction

 

Course 3 - Chef Tim Thompson and Team Marisol

Course 3 – Chef Tim Thompson and Team Marisol

COURSE 3 went back the Chef Tim Thompson and team Marisol. the focus on the plate was a very successful peanut – panko crusted Veal Milanese with a Coffee-Bacon-Brown Sugar-Pepsi Veal Stock Reduction and a side of Dijon Garlic Mash potatoes, and Micro Greens dressed with a honey sherry vinegar and a whole grain mustard emulsion

 

Course 4 - Chef Mark Grohman and Team Meridian

Course 4 – Chef Mark Grohman and Team Meridian

COURSE 4 from Chef Mark Grohman and team Meridian cam as a Bacon Wrapped  roulade of veal stuffed with a clever shiitake and peanut Duxelle and served with a sweet potato apple puree, delicious caramelized onion Brussels sprouts,  and a blueberry Pepsi® reduction

And then the chefs wowed the crowd’s collective sweet tooth with  desserts….

 

Course 5 dessert from Chef Tim Thompson and Team Marisol

Course 5 dessert from Chef Tim Thompson and Team Marisol

In COURSE 5, team Marisol offered Pepsi Cheesecake, with a peanut graham cracker crust,  a side of salted caramel ice cream, and a Pepsi infused chocolate sauce

 

 

Course 6 - from Chef mark Grohman and Team Meridian

Course 6 – from Chef mark Grohman and Team Meridian

And finally in COURSE 6 every enjoyed a step back to their childhood – or perhaps their last camping trip – with Meridian’s take on the classic S’more… this time made with roasted peanuts, a Bruleed Pepsi Marshmallow, Dark Chocolate,  and hand crafted peanut brittle

If you are in the Winston-Salem or Greensboro area you should definitely make reservations at both Meridian and Marisol and see just what Chefs Mark Grohman and Tim Thompson and their talented teams do on a regular basis when they are not in the throws of competition.

For more info on Mark Grohman’s Meridian, visit  Meridianws.com, or LIKE them on Facebook by clicking here  Meridian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

For more info on Tim Thompson and Marisol, TheMarisol.com  or LIKE them on Facebook by clicking here

Marisol on Urbanspoon

Meanwhile – here are some backstage shots of Marisol and Meridian chefs at work enjoying North Carolina’s newest culinary sport of Competition Dining…

 

DSC_1056Chef Mark Grohman in the thick of things and then with his team, chefs Levi Harris and Vernon James Ealey

 

 

 

 

Tim Thompson

Finally got Chef Tim Thompson to  look up from peeling potatoes and give the camera a smile!

team marisol in action

           

Team Marisol in action during prep – Wayne Atkins in the back making the cheesecake, Tim Thompson center and Marvin Merida making strawberry flowers

all the May 27 chefsAll of the chefs  from semi final teams Marisol and Meridian after the battle with Pate Dawson – Southern Foods chef refs, Laurence Willard and Billy Seay, center and Chef Laura from The Elm Center, Painted Plate Catering

and now for the special offer for Fire in the City Tickets….

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODAs A Thank You for reading this blog post by Charlotte Culinary Expert Heidi Billotto, we would like to offer you the unique opportunity to purchase discounted tickets to a dinner or dinners at North Carolina’s newest Culinary Sport

Competition Dining’s Fire in the City

Preliminary Dinners take place August 18 – September 3

Quarter Finals Semi Finals and Final Fire held September 8 – 29

All dinners will take place at Bonterra Restaurant on Worthington Ave. in Charlotte, but reservations must be made online

Competing chefs will be announced in early August – check this link for details – http://www.competitiondining.com/events/fire-in-the-city or follow Heidi on Facebook at Heidi Billotto or Heidi Billotto Cooks or on Twitter at @HeidiCooks or subscribe to this blog.

In the meantime, to receive $10 off the purchase of any preliminary round ticket, make your purchases before midnight on May 31 using the following links

Aug 18 – https://cityprelim1.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Aug 19 – https://cityprelim2.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Aug 20 – https://cityprelim3.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Aug 25 – https://cityprelim4.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Aug 26 – https://cityprelim5.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Aug 27 – https://cityprelim6.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Sep 2 – https://cityprelim7.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Sep 3 – https://cityprelim8.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

To make reservations for any of the Fire in the Triangle Competition  Dining battles in Raleigh visit, the Fire in the Triangle page of the Competition Dining website

To make reservations for any of Charlotte’s Fire in the City in Charlotte quarter finals, semi finals or Final Fire visit, the Fire in the City page of the Competition Dining website

Get your Grill On – Good-to-Grill tips to get you Going

grilling out shotSpring and Summertime cookouts are a great way to entertain this season and the convenience of a backyard grill offers a healthier way to cook all year round. Just a couple of dos and don’ts will yield fabulous results.

As many of you might realize, this post coordinates with a cooking tip segment originally aired on WCNC’s Charlotte Today on Tuesday May 20, 2014 -  Click here for the link to the video. Everything I talked about on air and more follows in this post – enjoy!

And, so that you can put these tips to action right away I’ve also included one fun seasonal recipes at the end - its homemade ice cream to serve with a bevy of fresh fruit hot off the grill.

But, before dessert, my good-to-grill tips – just one quick read and you are on your way to getting your grill on for 2014!

You can grill almost any vegetable in season - I'm partial to eggplant, zucchini, onions, bell pepper and bite sized grape tomatoes - serve with a drizzling of your favorite balsamic after they come off the grill and pair with some fresh mozzarella or burrata cheese and a loaf of grilled bread and you have the perfect party appetizer

You can grill almost any vegetable in season – I’m partial to eggplant, zucchini, onions, bell pepper and bite sized grape tomatoes – serve with a drizzling of your favorite balsamic after they come off the grill and pair with some fresh mozzarella or burrata cheese and a loaf of grilled bread and you have the perfect party appetizer

First and foremost – don’t place oil-laden foods on a hot grill.

Oil ignites and will burn quickly, so marinate to your heart’s content, but before placing food on a hot grill, pat it dry first, and then cook. Vegetables and fruits grill perfectly fine without the addition of any oil at all. Just salt and pepper and perhaps place smaller things on a non-stick grill grid for perfect results every time.

Do grill chicken, but don’t feel you need to boil it or microwave it first – it will cook perfectly from beginning to end if you follow a few easy steps along the way.

Start by grilling pieces (with or without the skin attached), simply seasoned salt and pepper – I suggest using my favorite coarse pink Himalayan sea salt and my special pepper blend from the Savory Spice Shop in Charlotte’s SouthEnd. Place the chicken on the grill skin side up, boney side down.

 

Grilled chicken pieces without the barbecue sauce finish. Just salt and pepper and about 6-8 minutes on each side over high heat

Grilled chicken pieces without the barbecue sauce finish. Just salt and pepper and about 6-8 minutes on each side over high heat

This will help to help render the fat. By the time you turn the poultry, the fat has cooked down affording less opportunity to flame up. If a piece does start to flame, just take it off the grill and get it out of the way. Do not douse it with water – you will just make a bigger mess.

Don’t marinade raw poultry (or any other meat) in barbecue sauce as the sugar in the sauce will burn on the grill long before the chicken, pork or beef is cooked inside.

Instead, do salt and pepper your favorite cuts and grill on each side over a low to medium flame to cook through and brown slightly – about 4-6 minutes on each side. Then baste the top of each piece with sauce, close the lid of the grill and allow the sauce to cook for 2-3 minutes before you flip. Repeat with the other side. Results will cook up tender, juicy – not charred – barbecued meats and poultry every time.

Grilling a whole chicken is a whole other story, so I’ll save the details on that for a future blog post or a future segment on the Charlotte Today broadcast.

For fish, use the Canadian rule. That’s ten minutes of grilling time for every inch of thickness when you measure the fish fillet or steak at the thickest part. Make sure that the fish is not frozen when you start for best results. Turn the seafood once during the cooking process.

Shimp is most easily grilled when it is double skewered - don't forget to skewer and grill single shrimp for a fun "Shrimp on a Stick" app

Shrimp is most easily grilled when it is double skewered – don’t forget to skewer and grill single shrimp for a fun “Shrimp on a Stick” app

The exception to this rule is shrimp and tuna steaks. Most people like their tuna raw to rare in the middle and seared on the outside, honestly its probably easier to do this indoors in a hot sauté pan with a little high quality extra virgin olive oil or your favorite sesame oil; but it works on the grill too. Just season with salt and pepper and place the steak on a hot grill for a minute or so on each side.
For shrimp, use small thick wooden skewers for best results – soak them in water if you would like, but the truth is if the skewers are thick enough, its so fast that they won’t burn in the time it takes the shrimp to cook. Skewers a servings worth of shrimp at a time – 4-6 in each set and use two skewers instead of just one. This keeps the shrimp flat and easier to turn over with the simply flip of a spatula. You may grill them in or out of the shell – or for a fun hors d’oeuvre you may run a skewer up through a single shrimp and grill it that way then serve with a sauce for dipping – who wouldn’t love shrimp on a stick?

You can marinade if you would like, but I think a sprinkling of high quality salt and flavorful pepper brings out the true taste of the beef

You can marinade if you would like, but I think a sprinkling of high quality salt and flavorful pepper brings out the true taste of the beef

Do season beef and pork with a coarse-grind sea salt or Kosher salt to add flavor but not dry out the meat as finer ground salts tend to do. Flipping burgers and steaks with a spatula or tongs instead of a fork will help to keep a moist juicy texture as well.
You may marinate if you would like. Be sure to pat marinated beef, chicken or fish dry with several thicknesses of paper towels before grilling, remembering that wet product will not brown even on the grill, it will only steam instead.
Once marinated meat has begun to brown, you can continue to baste with the marinade as you cook. Once the cooking is done, toss any leftover marinade.
Timing depends on your desired doneness. For the perfect steaks – start with 4-5 minutes on the first side then turn and cook 3-4 minutes more for rare, 4-6 minutes more for medium rare and, if you must, 8-10 minutes more for well done.

For the perfect London Broil as shown on the Charlotte Today spot – cook it for three minutes over high heat, the turn the meat at an angle to get the look of those professional crossed grill marks and grill for three minutes more. Turn the steak over – with tongs – not with a fork – and repeat the three and three grilling times. Take the meat off the grill; let it rest for 8-10 minutes and then slice at a slight angle. You’ll find the results are perfect and tender every time – with or without the addition of a marinade!

The entire grilled spread from the May 20 2014 segment at WCNC's Charlotte Today

The entire grilled spread from the May 20 2014 segment at WCNC’s Charlotte Today

Finally, don’t put cooked meat back into a marinade that once held raw meat – the result will be a bacteria hey-day Likewise for putting the cooked product on the same serving platter that once held raw meat or fish.
Do use a clean serving plate to bring your grilled goods to the table.

For dessert, who doesn’t love a banana split with homemade ice cream? Putting the bananas on the grill adds a richer toastier taste plus its fun to eat your own banana splits right out of the peel!

The ice cream recipe is for a basic vanilla. If you’d prefer to add another flavor do it right before churning – fresh strawberries, ½ cup of strong coffee, chocolate chips or crumbled Oreos all work well.
To freeze the ice cream without an ice cream freezer, divide the mixture into cupful servings and place each cupful into a pint sized freezer strength zip lock bag. Place the small sealed bag inside one gallon-sized Ziploc bag and then fill the big bag half full of ice and add six tablespoons of rock salt. Seal the bag. Shake for 5-10 minutes or so until the mixture in the small bag freezes and becomes ice cream.

Grilled Banana Splits
Place 4 unpeeled bananas on medium-hot grill; grill 4-5 minutes on each side, until bananas darken and slightly soften. Cut into the peel to expose the banana and serve warm topped with Biscoff, marshmallow fluff and nutella – oh my! Of course you can add ice cream if you would like…

Homemade Ice Cream
2 cups whole organic or local milk
2 Tbsp. vanilla
1 cup organic sugar
6 local egg yolks
1 cup organic or local heavy cream

1, Combine the milk and vanilla.
2, Beat the egg yolks and sugar well, until the mix is thick and almost white.
3. Add the milk to the egg mix. Transfer to a large saucepan. Stir the mixture constantly with a wooden spoon over medium heat until the custard starts to thicken.
4. Remove the pan from the heat; add in heavy cream to the custard and blend well.
5. Cool the mix to room temperature and then transfer the mix to the refrigerator to chill it down completely.
6. Pour the cold custard into the ice cream freezer and freeze according to machine instructions.

Oh my, it’s time for Pi…

I love to bak epies but my most popular is one, though, is not pictured here - its my infamous chocolate pecan pie - Yum!

I love to bake pies but my most popular is one, though, is not pictured here – its my infamous chocolate pecan pie – Yum!

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgIt’s March 14, 2014 and while many of you may think that this is just the day before St. Patty’s day, others with a slightly more mathematical mind will get that its 3.14 or Pi(e) Day!

Wish I had come up with the pun, but I must give credit where credit it due – Jessica’s Biscuit, a cookbook lovers’ website, just sent out their weekly Biscuit Buzz email with the pun in place to promote baking cookbooks.

I just thought I would jump on in, and take advantage of the theme to bring you my most popular pie recipe ever – my infamous Chocolate Pecan Pie.

Make it work for St. Patty’s by adding some Irish Whiskey in place of the vanilla and a tablespoon or two of the milk.

Delicious Black Onyx cocoa powder and sugar from the Savory Spice Shop SouthEnd in Charlotte NC

Delicious Black Onyx cocoa powder and sugar from the Savory Spice Shop SouthEnd in Charlotte NC

Of course, I shop for  cocoa at Charlotte’s Savory Spice Shop, SouthEnd.

While they have several cocoa choices, I always land on the most chocolatey one – the Black Onyx Cocoa – for this particular recipe.  When you are picking up the cocoa, also look for Savory Spice Shop’s Black Onyx sugar, and if the  luck of the Irish is with you, they will also have their Black Onyx sugar cubes in stock.

Serve theses scumptuous sugar cups to sweeten up that  cup of Irish coffee you plan to serve with your first slice of pie – delish!

Local eggs from anyone of Charlotte’s farmers’ markets, organic sugar and milk and local pecans ( you can order local pecans, in season, from High Rock Farms in Gibsonville NC ) make this Pi, practically perfect.

These two loved the Vodka pie crust when they attended my Apple of Your Pie cooking class earlier this year

These two loved the Vodka pie crust when they attended my Apple of Your Pie cooking class earlier this year

Speaking of perfect – if making your own pie crust has only brought you frustrations in the past, then toss all of your other recipes away and try this foolproof ( it really is) vodka pie crust recipes I took from the page of Cooks Illustrated Magazine some years ago. Still giving credit where credit is due, it really is the best pie crust I have ever made and I thank Cooks for doing the research.

The vodka apparently has a better chemical reaction with the butter and flour than does water and creates a lighter flakier crust. Honestly I have never wondered much about why it works – I am just happy that it does and to tell you the truth , its fun to cook with spirits.

TOPO distilleries in Chapel Hill NC makes local 100% organic vodka, gin and whiskey

TOPO distilleries in Chapel Hill NC make local 100% organic vodka, gin and whiskey

In the “spirit” of keeping things local and organic I have opted for TOPO Vodka here – NC’s own 100% organic vodka made in Chapel Hill – great stuff, available at all NC and some SC liquor stores – do give it a try.  While you are trying you will also want to pick up a bottle of the TOPO gin as well -delish and the perfect addition to a spring or summer time Italian Negroni or all American gin and tonic.

Liquor aside and back to pie, for my gluten free friends I have also included a delicious gluten free crust recipe here -give it a try and let me know what you think – no one – gluten free or not, should ever have to do without a slice of Pi!
Cheers!

CHOCOLATE PECAN PIE TART
Recipe by Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto
hlnc@carolina.rr.com

3 cups organic sugar
pinch salt
7 Tbsps. Your favorite cocoa from the Savory Spice Shop
4 local eggs
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1 ½ cups organic milk
1 stick butter, melted
2-3 cups local pecan halves (be generous)
Dough for two pies fitted into two 10-inch French tart pans with removable bottoms

Carefully fit the dough into each of the French tart pans, trimming edges to fit. Place each on a baking sheet. Mix sugar, salt, and cocoa together. Whisk together the eggs, vanilla, and milk; stir into the dry ingredients. Add melted butter and stir until well blended. Fill each pie shell two – thirds full with pecan halves.
Pour filling over the pecans. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. If you are taking your tart to-go, transport them in the pans and then removed on site for easy serving. Top with freshly whipped cream or ice cream if you would like.
Makes 2 pies.

Foolproof Pie Dough
Shared by Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto
hlnc@carolina.rr.com
Originally from Cooks Illustrated, November 2007
Makes enough for one 9-inch double-crust pie

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached organic all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. organic sugar
12 Tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into small bits
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water
Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds .
Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.
Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

Heidi’s Gluten Free Brazil Nut Pie Crust                                                                                                                                                 

Recipe Adapted By Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto                                                                                                     Hlnc@carolina.rr.com

4 1/2 cups (630 g) high-quality all-purpose gluten-free flour ( I like the all purpose gluten free flour at Trader Joes very much)

4 tsps. xanthan gum

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

20 Tbsp.  unsalted butter, roughly chopped and kept cold

4 ounces grated Brazil nuts, finely grated

1 cup to 1 1/4 cups cold water, iced (ice cubes do not count in volume measurement)

Egg wash (1 egg yolk + 2 tablespoons cream, whisked to combine)

Into the bowl of your food processor fitted with the steel blade (or a large bowl, if you don’t have a food processor), place the flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, salt, and grated Brazil nuts, and pulse a few times until well-combined (or whisk if not using the machine). Add the chopped and chilled butter, and pulse until the chunks of butter are a bit smaller and are covered in the dry mixture.

Add 1/2 cup ice water to the mixture a bit at a time. If using a food processor, pulse repeatedly while dribbling in the ice water very slowly. After you have added this first 1/2 cup ice water, pulse a few more times to see if the mixture is beginning to come together in the food processor. If not, dribble in more water by the scant tablespoon and pulse. Stop adding water the moment the mixture begins to come together.

Dump the dough out onto a large sheet of plastic wrap, enclose and place in the freezer until firm, about 30 minutes. If you are not planning to use the dough right away, but will use it within a few days, transfer the wrapped dough to the refrigerator, where it can keep for a few days. If you don’t plan to use the dough for more than a few days, freeze until solid and defrost in the refrigerator overnight before using.

For more information about the Savory Spice Shop SouthEnd in Charlotte visit https://www.facebook.com/pages/Savory-Spice-Shop-Charlotte-South-EndDilworth/136994393059682 - Take in you old bottles of commercial herbs and spices from now till April 15 and take advantage of the Cash in Your Cupboard Event where the shop will pay you to bring in your old dried herbs spices and buy new ones!

For more information about TOPO spirits – visit http://www.topodistillery.com/

For more information about Local NC pecans and chestnuts, in season, visit http://www.high-rock-farm.org/

Heidi Billotto’s Nibbles and Sips – March 2014

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODLots of worthwhile Nibbles and Sips in the Queen City for early March.  Pick and choose or  enjoy them all!

Artisan Olive oils and vinegars, Italian eats, oysters on the half shell,  green beer, crawfish, handmade matzah and goat cheese – this week its quite an eclectic mix!

Thursday March 13  – For the Love of Oil and Other Good Things, don’t miss this tasty event

Pour olive LOGOPour Olive Presents an Evening Tasting Artisanal Italian Foods by Zia Pia  

Thursday ,March 13      6-8pm
Join my good friends at Pour Olive with Victoria and Riccardo of Zia Pia Imports as they sample a choice selection of Zia Pia’s specialty artisanal Italian foods. Experience the unforgettable, inimitable, authentic flavors of Italy’s regional food traditions — pates, pestos and preserves from Sicily, organic tomatoes from Puglia, organic chocolates made in the Modica tradition and gianduja chocolate from Piedmont — while learning about Italy’s regional food traditions. Discover the pleasures of artisanal Italy with Zia Pia imports and Pour Olive at this first time, joint-sponsored event! Word is they have wonderful wines to sip along with these artisanal foods, and as always plenty of Extra Virgin Olive Oils and Balsamics to sample and buy. Call for more information – 980.207.1510   Pour Olive is located at 1528 East Blvd. , Charlotte, NC, 28203  – additional parking lot in back of the building.

On the Half Shell -

I ate my weight n fresh caught oysters while Tom and I were  in the Florida panhandle last year - This year all we have to do is go to Upstream!

I ate my weight n fresh caught oysters while Tom and I were in the Florida panhandle last year – This year all we have to do is go to Upstream!

Upstream is located in Charlotte’s Southpark area at 6902 Phillips Pl., at the Phillips Place shopping area.

Upstream is located in Charlotte’s Southpark area at 6902 Phillips Pl., at the Phillips Place shopping area.

Yum! If you are a mollusk lover like me then run, don’t walk  to Upstream Seafood restaurant this month! From now till the end of the month of March , the popular SouthPark restaurant located in Phillips Place is cracking open a remarkable deal on oysters!

Get this – Monday through Thursday, 4pm-6:30pm in the Upstream Bar, you can eat all the East Coast oysters on the half-shell you want for just $1 each PLUS all the West Coast oysters you want for just $1.50 each.   In addition to the oyster special, Upstream’s bar will also feature daily drink specials and have their Bar Bites menu available.

Upstream is located in Charlotte’s Southpark area at 6902 Phillips Place, at the Phillips Place shopping area. Hours of operations: Mon-Thurs 11:30am -10:00pm; Fri-Sat 11:30am-11pm; Sunday 10:30am-10pm; Sunday Brunch 10:30am-2:30pm. Reservations are accepted at 704.556.7730.

Visit online at http://www.upstreamseafood.com. Upstream on Urbanspoon

Seeing Green -

green river eventJoin in on the St. Patty’s day fun for the 4th annual Green River Revival,  Saturday, March 15 at the US White Water Center. The celebration will kick off with the Color Me Green 5K, a trail race similar to the Color Run, but of course, the color of the day is green. Following the race, watch as the whitewater rapids turn bright green in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, followed by live music, and lots of food and drink. The river, dyed for the day in emerald green,  will remain open to those eager to raft or kayak the green waters.

For info visit http://usnwc.org/green-river-revival-2/

 

For Mardis Gras stop by and Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler at e2 Emeril’s Eatery in Uptown Charlotte

CHef Brian Mottola, executive chef at e2 Emeril's Eatery in Charlote NC

Chef Brian Mottola, executive chef at e2 Emeril’s Eatery in Charlote NC

My friends at e2 emeril’s eatery always offers a taste of New Orleans in uptown Charlotte. But the vibe is never more authentic than in the spring when e2 hosts a New Orleans Crawfish Boil on the patio each Friday. The popular tradition that began last spring returns this Friday, March 14 from 4:30-7 p.m. and, the best part it that because Charlotteans love to celebrate,   we can do it all over again  each Friday this month, weather permitting, until May 30.

e2 Eerils Eatery Pastry chef, Stephanie Nikolic

e2 Emerils Eatery Pastry chef, Stephanie Nikolic

A peel-your-own crawfish boil is truly a food experience that brings people together. Louisiana crawfish are served fresh out of the pot, with corn, mushrooms and Andouille sausage as co-stars. Abita beer is available on draft for $5 and Budweiser and Bud Lite bottles are $4. The cost is $15 per person for an all-you-care-to-eat al fresco feast.

Its all happening at e2 emeril’s eatery 135 Levine Avenue of the Arts, Suite 100 Charlotte, NC 28202 Complimentary Valet Parking for Dinner.    e2 emeril’s eatery, conveniently located at 135 Levine Avenue of the Arts in Uptown Charlotte, offers complimentary valet parking for dinner Monday-Saturday beginning at 5 p.m. Dinner is served Monday to Thursday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 

For more information on e2 emeril’s eatery, please visit www.emerilsrestaurants.com/e2-emerils-eatery  E2 Emeril's Eatery on Urbanspoon

Planning for Passover -

Every piece of the wood-fired Vermatzah is made by hand in small batches.

Every piece of the wood-fired Vermatzah is made by hand in small batches.

I discovered this artisan-made from ancient grains, organic Matzah last year, right before the Passover holiday – when I wrote to order, they had already sold out – so  I signed up for the company’s email list and sure enough, last week got an email reminding me that is was time to place my order for this year’s holiday.

This is handmade, wood-fired Artisan Matzah for Passover baked with a blend of organic Vermont wheat and Emmer, an ancient grain used in the original matzah baked thousands of years ago.
vermatzha 2Naga Bakehouse is a small, family run wood-fired bakery in Middletown Springs, Vermont.  They’ve been baking Vermatzah since 2009.  Every piece of wood-fired matzah is still made by hand in small batches. Like so many locavores, these bakers strive to re-connect the food we eat with the story of where it comes from by growing many of our own ingredients and sourcing the rest from local farms. What’s not to love?
My Matzah order should be here soon and I can’t wait to taste it –  I was going to wait  to write about the product, but I don’t want you to miss out on a chance to order – so check it out now - you may read all about it  on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/vermatzah or for more info and to place a Vermatzah order visit, http://www.vermatzah.com  
On your Bucket List
You're gonna love Heidi's On the Farm class at Bosky Acres Dairy

You’re gonna love Heidi’s On the Farm class at Bosky Acres Dairy

For those of you who have always wanted to know how,  I invite you to join in on the fun at my upcoming  On the Farm cooking class at Bosky Acres Dairy and Learn to Milk a Dairy Goat!

The next class in my unique On the Farm series will take place at Bosky Acres Farm in Waxhaw NC.  Dairy owner and artisan goat cheesemaker Michelle lamb will not only introduce us to the goats, the kids and her way of  locl farm life, but she’ll share the secrets to making her wonderful Bosky Acres goat cheese and each class participant will have the opportunity to learn to milk a dairy goat as well – talk about photo opts!
bosky acres baby goatsDuring the down and rest time during  the  cheesemaking process, I’ll be there using Michelle’s wonderful cheese is four different dishes,  sharing hearty samples and recipes too…and did I mention that Josh Villapando from the Assorted Table Wine Shop will join in on the fun with wine pairings for each dish -  its going to be great fun – Make your reservations now by simply emailing me at HLNC@carolina.rr.com . Cost is $75 per person. Attendees must be at least 16 years  of age.

Weekend One of Charlotte’s 2014 Spring Show Cooking Stage: Recap & Recipes

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgIt is, each and every year, my great pleasure to coordinate the chefs and host the culinary action on the Southern Shows Spring Home and Garden Show cooking stage in late February and then again I do the same in August for the Southern Shows Ideal Home show.
This year the spring show ran two consecutive weekends in a row and with nearly 60 different chefs, sous chefs, foodies and farmers making appearances on stage, every hour on the hour, the action was hot!

With so many different chefs I made the decision to make the stage “paperless” this year – so aside from coupons, business cards and menus for the crowd to pick up and share, there were no printed recipes.

bannerInstead of all the paper,  my good friends at Charlotte Living magazine have created a Southern Spring Home & Garden cooking stage landing page where readers will find an index of all the participating chefs, links to their printed recipes and further links to restaurant, chef, farm and shop websites. the link to the recipe index from the first weekend is at the end of this post; recipes for the second weekend will be up next week and I’ll soon write a recap blog post for that as well –  but first a brief recap of the first weekend of fun, food and flavor!

Heidi and Tom in the Booth  spring show 2-14

Heidi and Tom Billotto in Charlotte NC at the Southern Spring Home & Garden Show 2014

As I mentioned, this year, The Southern Spring & Garden show ran Feb 22 – Feb 24 and Feb 28 – Mar 2, While I was at the Cooking Stage, my very talented husband Musician Tom Billotto, was performing instrumental and vocals in the show’s gardens. We sold his CD, Two and A Half Guitars, at the Heidi Billotto & Friends booth directly across from the  cooking stage and then we played it between chefs  –  the crowd seemed to enjoy the blending of food and mood.

If you missed purchasing Tom’s CD for a little food and mood of your own – its available through his website - look for the link at the end of this post.

So what follows is the low down on the line up of first weekend chefs, farmers and foodies that I am proud to call my friends and colleagues as they shared their skills, tips and techniques with the audience. – Thank you every one!

 

Heidi Billotto with Cantina 1511's Vince Giancarlo and Greg Balch

Heidi Billotto with Cantina 1511′s Vince Giancarlo and Greg Balch

Chefs Vince Giancarlo, Kyle Biddy and Greg Balch from Cantina 1511 kicked things off on Feb 21 at 11 am preparing Al Pastor Pork from Cantina’s new spring menu.

Al Pastor Pork on a griddle fried corn arapas

Al Pastor Pork on a griddle fried corn arapas

This delicious little bite is one you should certainly request when next you eat at either of Cantinas two locations – the big news is that the East Blvd. location will soon be moving to Park Road Shopping Center – stay tuned on these blog pages and on my Facebook page for details as they happen.

Paul Verica and his son Alex from Heritage Food and Drink

Paul Verica and his son Alex from Heritage Food and Drink

Baby bacon Doughnuts from chefs Paul and Alex Verica

Baby bacon Doughnuts from chefs Paul and Alex Verica

As it turned out it was a pork-centric beginning to the day as Chef Paul Verica and his son Alex followed with his version of the story of  “The Three Little Pigs” done Hertitage Food and Drink style with Maple Glazed Pork Belly, Pulled pork with old school biscuits and  Bacon Doughnuts, oh my!

A big supporter of local farmers and farmers markets, Paul has spent the last 20 years developing his personal style of New American Cuisine, and  the opening of Heritage Food & Drink in downtown Waxhaw NC  the culmination of years of hard work and dedication – like all the restaurants featured in this post Heritage is well worth your consideration next time you plan to enjoy dinner out!

Heidi with Chef Bill Bigham

Heidi with Chef Bill Bigham

Then the day on the stage took a turn toward poultry with Private chef Chef Bill Bigham who shared his quick and easy recipe for Mojito Chicken.

Chris Coleman from The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

Chris Coleman from The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

Bill was followed by Chef Chris Coleman from The Asbury at The Dunhill Hotel, a modern southern restaurant that honors the past, celebrates the seasons, and looks forward serving break fast lunch and dinner 7 days a week. Chris followed the poultry theme  preparing Cured and pan roasted duck with NC peanut Farro Risotto using local duck local peanuts and local farro – Chris is another big believer in the farm to fork concept and the menu at The Asbury reflects this philosophy.

Heidi Billotto with chefs David Moore and Kelly Morrow from The Gallery

Heidi Billotto with chefs David Moore and Kelly Morrow from The Gallery

North Carolina Peanut

North Carolina Peanut

Chef David Moore from The Gallery at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge was also inspired by all things local and Southern as he too worked with NC peanuts, crafting the legume into a delicious brittle that sported quick a kick as he added South Carolina’s now famous hot sauce, The Grim Reaper, grown and produced by the Puckerbutt Hot Sauce Company in Ft Mill, SC. The Grim reaper chili has recently been classified as the hottest Chili in the world by the fine folks at Guinness who keep all the records!

Private chef Jill Aker-Ray

Private chef Jill Aker-Ray

Rachel Klebaur from Orrman's cheese shop

Rachel Klebaur from Orrman’s cheese shop

Private chef Jill Aker Ray lightened things up a bit with her easy Primavera sauce and I followed with Rachel Klebaur of Orrman’s Cheese Shop, making my recipes for Local Bosky Acres goat cheese fondue and beer cheese stuffed jalapenos.

Greg and Subrina Collier from The Yolk in Rock Hill

Greg and Subrina Collier from The Yolk in Rock Hill

Later, I took the stage once more to share perfect pairings of Pour Olive ultra premium extra virgin olive oils and artisan Balsamic vinegars and then Chef Greg Collier put a cap on the evening as he entertained the crowd while he prepared a twist on a breakfast classic – steel cut oats. Instead of making a sweet oatmeal, Greg transformed the oats into a melt in your mouth mushroom risotto – what a way to end our first day and one reason you should definitely check out the breakfast menus at The Yolk located in Rock Hill, SC!
 

 

Heidi with DJ Ivey and Jon Fortes form Mimosa Grill

Heidi with DJ Ivey and Jon Fortes from Mimosa Grill

The action Continue at a fever pitch on Saturday, Feb 22 with appearances by four of Charlotte’s top restaurant chefs one right after the other:

Carpe Diem's Chef Paul Ketterhagen with his biggest fan

Carpe Diem’s Chef Paul Ketterhagen with his biggest fan

Chef Paul Ketterhagen from Carpe Diem, a fine dining restaurant and catering company
located at 1535 Elizabeth Avenue  in Charlotte delighted show goers with recipes for  a springtime farro salad with a duo of vinaigrettes – look for creative dishes like this one on the carpe diem springtime menu

Chef Sam Stachon from The Kings Kitchen

Chef Sam Stachon from The Kings Kitchen

Then Chef Sam Stachon from The Kings Kitchen a not for profit restaurant in Uptown , with a mission  to help and feed our city’s hungry and homeless, brought it all back home with his melt in your mouth biscuits and sasauge gravy. Kings Kitchen is now open for breakfast and these biscuits are featured on the breakfast and lunch menus.

Chef Tim Groody from Fork! in Cornelius

Chef Tim Groody from Fork! in Cornelius

Smoked pork potstickers by Chef Tim Groody

Smoked pork potstickers by Chef Tim Groody

Show goers were ready for more as Chef Tim Groody from Fork Restaurant  on Main Street in Cornelius, a farms to fork restaurant supporting dozens of local farms in the Carolinas, put an international spin on a bevy of local ingredients to make his tasty smoked local pork pot stickers!

Creole stuffed hushpuppies by chef Jon Fortes of Mimosa Grill

Creole stuffed hushpuppies by chef Jon Fortes of Mimosa Grill

Chef Jonathan Fortes, winner of the 2013 Fire in the City Competition dining series,  and his team from Mimosa Grill located in Uptown Charlotte, wowed show goers with his  creole stuffed hushpuppies - the crowd, quit literally, ate it all up.

Nada Vergili of Nada's Italy

Nada Vergili of Nada’s Italy

a beautiful presentation of homemade Boursin cheese by chef Jill Aker Ray

a beautiful presentation of homemade Boursin cheese by chef Jill Aker Ray

I made real Italian biscotti while Italian travel expert Nada Vergili  expounded on all that is wonderful about traveling in Italy; while private chef Jill Aker-Ray stepped up for  the first of  three separate time slots on stage over the course of the show  sharing her recipes for  primavera sauce, boursin cheese and southern pesto.

On Sunday Feb 23 – The crew from the Papi Queso Food Truck was unable to attend as scheduled, so I stepped in sharing a few tips I’ve learned from Papi Queso and others on making superlative grilled cheese sandwiches  -the big trick is to use real mayo instead of butter on the bread for a truly golden and crispy finish ( the brand is your call but my go-to is Carolinas-made Dukes) - other than that, use interesting breads and fill with your favorite combinations of cheese, fruits, meats and veggies and you’re good to grill!

Heidi Billotto with Chef Nathan Volz from the Ritz -Carlton in Charlotte

Heidi Billotto with Chef Nathan Volz from the Ritz -Carlton in Charlotte

Profiteroles with foie gras filling from Chef Nathan Volz

Profiteroles with foie gras filling from Chef Nathan Volz

I was followed on stage  by a new, very talented, chef in town. So glad to have Nathan Volz, executive sous chef at Charlotte’s Ritz Carlton join us on stage.  Nathan’s “taste of the Ritz- Carlton” this day were bite sized pistachio profiteroles filled with a foie gras mousse – ah – what a way to start the day!

Heidi Billotto with Chef David Lucarelli from The Cowfish

Heidi Billotto with Chef David Lucarelli from The Cowfish

After the foie gras, amuse, so to speak, Chef David Lucarelli from The Cowfish, sushi burger bar, gave the crowd a rundown on making the very best burgers and  cheeseburgers and shared recipes for some of his favorite sauces.

Mary and Ray Roberts-Tarlton with enough fresh picked certified organic spinach  to feed the crowd!

Mary and Ray Roberts-Tarlton with enough fresh picked certified organic spinach to feed the crowd!

Next things took a light turn as Windcrest Farms’ Mary Roberts  joined me on stage to talk about al things organic and to tell guests int he audience how to grow from their own organic gardens.

Windcrest Organic Farms spinach - just beautiful!

Windcrest Organic Farms spinach – just beautiful!

Mary and her husband Ray brought along two huge bags of fresh picked organic spinach which we served to the crowd paired with organic strawberries for a  light spinach salad and then backed with Bosky Acres goat cheese and grated parmigiana reggiana for a rich warm spinach soufflé. We also sautéed this wonderful seasonal green with organic chick peas and tomatoes to create a tasty simply side dish as well. 

Heidi Billotto and chef Ben Philpott

Heidi Billotto and chef Ben Philpott

Inspired by Ben's mustard recipe I went home and made my own local mustard! - seeds soaking here....

Inspired by Ben’s mustard recipe I went home and made my own local mustard! – seeds soaking here….

That afternoon  I welcomed Chef Ben Philpott from Block and Grinder to the stage . At Block & Grinder, Ben makes delicious charcuterie and so he brought some of his duck ham to share with the cooking stage crowd and then he made a homemade mustard to go with. Keeping true to the philosophy that the show must go on, Ben persevered through an explosion of his blender and the fact that the fire alarm in the building went off in the middle of his demo.  After the all clear, we all realized that sometimes you just have to laugh and keep moving on.

Scott MacCabe from the Savory Spice Shop Southend

Scott MacCabe from the Savory Spice Shop Southend

Heidi with Scott and Amy from Savory Spice Shop Southend

Heidi with Scott and Amy from Savory Spice Shop Southend

The weekend ended with a presentation from Amy and Scott McCabe from The Savory Spice Shop SouthEnd  – my go -to place for all spices and herbs sweet and savory. Scott cooked up a rigatoni pasta dish while Amy handed spice samples out to the crowd – the perfect cap off for the evening and the first weekend of the show..

For all the recipes from this talented line up of first weekend of chefs at the cooking stage at the Southern Spring & Garden Show in Charlotte click on over to http://charlottelivingmagazine.com/spring_show_2014/Spring_Show_Recipes.pdf

Each of the recipes on the Charlotte Living site offer links to the chef restaurants and websites… recipes from the second weekend of chefs will be up and online mid March 2014. 

Meanwhile, for more information about any of our first weekend chefs  – just follow these links to get to their respective websites ….

For more information on me, Heidi Billotto and my cooking classes – friend me on Facebook at Heidi Billotto or follow me on Twitter at @heidicooks  and follow this blog and all the details will come to you as I post…